If you’ve ever visited the U.S. Supreme Court to watch oral arguments, changes are good that you saw a little verbal jousting between Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. The Court’s two most verbal (and funniest) jurists don’t see eye to eye on a number of judicial philosophies.
But an audience in Lubbock Texas didn’t have to travel to Washington to see the two justices spar Friday. Scalia and Breyer brought their battle to the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center.
Round 1: The death penalty
“There’s not an ounceworth of room for debate as to whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because, at the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted – the cruel and unusual punishments clause – it was the only punishment for a felony,” said the Sicilian orginalist from Queens, according to the Associated Press. “It was the definition of a felony. It’s why we have Western movies because horse thieving was a felony.”
“”And indeed there were whipping posts where people were flogged virtually to death up until the middle of the 19th century,” said the pragmatist Frisco Kid. “If we had a case like that today I’d like to see how you’d vote.”
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s stupid that’s not unconstitutional.” Scalia retorted later.
Round 2: Statutory interpretation
“There are ways of determine how and what the legislature was thinking of … to determine what is the object of this law,” Breyer said, The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.
“The only thing you know for sure is the words of the statute,” Scalia said. II don’t at all look to what I think the legislature thought. I frankly don’t care what the legislature thought.”
“That’s the problem,” Breyer quipped.
Round 3: Changing the Constitution
“There’s very little that I would change,” Scalia said. “I would change it back to what they wrote, in some respects. The 17th Amendment [which provides for U.S. senators to be elected by people instead of state legislatures] has changed things enormously. We changed that in a burst of progressivism in 1913, and you can trace the decline of so-called states’ rights throughout the rest of the 20th century. So, don’t mess with the Constitution.”
“There have been lots of ups and downs in the enforcement of this Constitution, and one of the things that’s been quite ugly – didn’t save us from the Civil War – is that there is a system of changing the Constitution through amendment,” Breyer said. “It’s possible to do but not too easy.”
While the verbal fireworks are fun, Breyer said the two don’t always lock rams.
“From the outside you think we disagree about everything, but we’re unanimous in our court about 40 percent of the time,” Breyer said.
But, Breyer added later: “We can disagree about almost anything.”